The Conseil de déontologie journalistique (CDJ – Council for ethical journalism), created in 2009, is an organization for self-regulation of the French- and German-language media in Belgium. It consists of representatives of publishers, journalists, editors and civil society. It has three distinct functions: information, mediation and regulation.
Most journalists working in Belgium do indeed want to comply with a code of ethics, although constraints on the media, particularly economic pressure, do not make things easier. The aspiration of creating a council for ethical journalism is not a new idea, and long efforts have been made in recent years by editors and journalists alike. On 30 April 2009, the Parliament of the French Community voted a decree giving official status to CDJ. The new Conseil de déontologie journalistique is not the first of its kind. But for the very first time it brings journalists and editors together, it has a legal status and it enjoys considerable financing, giving it a certain sustainability.
This aspiration to have a reference tool in matters of ethics will not prevent some from making errors in good faith, and others from making them deliberately – under pressure, or on their own initiative. The CDJ’s main mission is to respond to questions or complaints from those who feel they have been victimized. It does this impartially, acting first as a mediator, and gives reasoned opinions. Its vocation is not to defend journalists and the media versus the public at all costs, but to amend that which needs correction.
However, sanctioning is not the essence. First and foremost, the CDJ is a reference for those who wish to comply and demand compliance with a code of ethics that is not always sufficiently publicized or stressed in classes; and this code must evolve, since the media themselves are changing. New technological tools in particular are enacting a profound change in the way information is communicated. Competition is pushing to work (too) fast and to seek spectacular stories whatever the cost. Many journalists wonder about the standards to be applied in view of these challenges. The CDJ will tackle the job of writing a code of ethics, a process that entails collecting what exists, making the rules coherent and filling the gaps. After that, it will strive to publicize the code. Constructive efforts should and do prevail over “repressive” activities, that nevertheless are still necessary. These missions will be carried out in collaboration with the Conseil supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (CSA) and with CDJ’s Dutch-speaking equivalent Raad voor de journalistiek.
CDJ’s utility is thus both “internal” for journalists and “external” for the public. Contributing to quality information and the citizens’ right to be correctly informed is the ultimate goal of the assignments entrusted to CDJ.